MR. BURNS—A Post-Electric Play. Written by Anne Washburn; directed by Amanda Berg Wilson. Produced by The Catamounts at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., through Oct. 18. Tickets at 720-468-0487 or the firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the program: “This play is set in the very near future. Then 7 years after that. Then 75 years after that.” Act I—in the very near future—shows a group of survivors of some kind of electricity-destroying apocalypse gathered around a campfire sharing memories of the episodes of The Simpsons that they remember. They are guarded but still open to friendships and happy memories of the not-too-distant past. A stranger is welcomed into the gathering after they determine he is not armed, and they pump him for news from “outside.” His tales are of cities destroyed and quarantined and places to be avoided. But he joins in the reminiscing and even contributes his own memories of appearing in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. There is a poignant scene as everyone asks him about their lost relatives and they all refer to their lists of people they have met in their travels.
Act II—7 years later—shows most of the same group of people in a studio of some sort, acting out and making videos of their remembered Simpsons episodes. They seem safer and not quite as guarded against the outside world. But the struggle to remember lines is harder now, and they are reduced to buying lines from “line brokers” who have better memories or wrote them down. This seems to be the overriding purpose in their life: to create entertainment based on The Simpsons and made-up commercials. But the desperation is a little more obvious; the slipping-away, a little more pronounced.
By Act III—75 years later—their sons and daughters are crazier than the proverbial batsh**. Now they have BECOME the Simpsons, using homemade masks to indicate their characters and living under the control of the evil Mr. Burns, a seeming representative of all that has gone bad in their lives. Bart’s attempts at being the hero and saving the day are ineffectual, to say the least. They are continually assured that “everything will be all right” when it obviously is not all right. Their Simpsons actions are laced, as well, with themes and melodies from Gilbert and Sullivan and Dr. Seuss. They seem to be trying to keep some semblance of what they had in the past, symbolized by the humor and heroics of their television icons.
Working as a unit, the cast brings this story to life successfully and convinces us of the characters’ need to believe in something. What I really would have liked to see, however, was a continuation of Act I—a longer dialogue and explanation about what happened, what it did to their lives, how were they coping, and what were their hopes and dreams now that the world they knew was gone. Watching the cast struggle together and go quietly crazy was amusing and interesting but didn’t touch me as completely as the honesty of the first act.
All that being said, the cast did a superlative job with the script they were given. There was an ease of delivery and relaxation of style that was very pleasant to watch. It seemed as though they were playing with us, rather than playing for us. I’m sure there were some mistakes made on the stage that night—spilled water, etc.—but the actors plugged on as though nothing really mattered. The brilliant primary colors of the masks and costumes of the ultimate Simpsons was very realistic and cartoonish.
The question that kept coming up for this watcher was: What icons would I treasure if all electronics were denied me today? It certainly wouldn’t be the Simpsons, but it might be something similarly silly to someone else. Any play that makes you think and question yourself after the final curtain is worth seeing. But you’ve only got one more weekend, so get on it!
WOW factor: 8